CAMPAIGNS: Judge and Jury; Time for the Government to take lessons from McDonald’s

The British beef debacle will continue to plague the Government, but McDonald’s appears to have made a happy meal of the situation by putting the health of their customers first says crisis and communications consultant Michael Bland

The British beef debacle will continue to plague the Government, but

McDonald’s appears to have made a happy meal of the situation by putting

the health of their customers first says crisis and communications

consultant Michael Bland



The ingredients of successful crisis handling are simple enough: act

sooner rather than later; be seen to act; and tell your important

audiences what they want to hear, not what you want to tell them. It’s

so simple that it seldom happens, so it was good to see McDonald’s doing

it over British beef.



Another element of crisis is that before long, your publics have only a

vague general impression of what happened (a day after the Kegworth air

disaster no-one could remember what British Midland chairman Mike Bishop

had said on camera the previous evening - they just remembered that it

was ‘good’).



So the niceties about whether McDonald’s acted too quickly, or

cynically, or whether or not British beef is actually dangerous will

soon be forgotten. All that will remain in the subliminal public mind

will be the idea that McDonald’s doesn’t take any risks with its

customers’ health - and that’s a hell of an impression for your

customers to have. Well done McDonald’s!



Mind you, they had a much easier decision to make than the Government.

McDonald’s have only one lobby that matters - their customers - and they

don’t have to rely on farmers’ votes to keep them in office. They could

afford to take the action they did.



For once I feel a little sympathy for the Government. BSE is an

immensely complex issue and anyone who says they have the PR solution

doesn’t understand the problem. Unfortunately, whatever action the

Government now takes is against a backdrop of public mistrust - and that

they have thoroughly deserved through their years of dismally mismanaged

communications. Eggs, poll tax, BSE stage I - at every turn they have

thought that ‘communicating’ meant telling people your side of things.



Anyone who’s ever been involved in a simple domestic argument will know

that just saying ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’ doesn’t achieve anything. Yet

that, in effect, is what the Government has done all along. When BSE

cropped up the first time it screamed out for some sort of demonstration

that they were taking our health seriously, even if they believed that

there was no danger.



Instead we were treated to the patronising spectacle of the agriculture

minister stuffing a beefburger down his daughter’s throat - a low point

in the history of government communications.



I’m glad that it has come back to haunt them.



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